Herman and Thusnelda - George Upton




The Brothers' Quarrel

After the altar had fallen in ruins, the master requested the strangers to follow him to the house. He was an elderly man of colossal and powerful figure, built rather to hunt the wild ox of the forest than to handle a sickle. He wore a bearskin about his shoulders, fastened at the breast by a long thorn. Like all free-born Germans of that time he was both hunter and warrior. He usually left the cultivation of his land to his men and women servants, but that day he had remained at home to make the offering.

They had now reached the house. Its gray thatched roof sloped to the ground, and its walls were made of red clay.

"I am now your host, and you are my guests," said the master. "Will you enter, or do you prefer to stay under the oaks and partake of food?" The mild, balmy forest air was so tempting in comparison with the dark house that the youths decided to remain in the open air, after having first fed and watered their horses. The host meanwhile busied himself looking after his guests. Bearskins were brought for the comfort of the young leaders of the band. Wild boar's flesh, bear hams, smoked bear's paws, black bread like that still baked by the Westphalian peasants, and a generous supply of drink made of barley and honey, called Meth  by the Germans, were set in their midst. Lustily did they devour the good things provided for them by their generous host; for hospitality was one of the most prominent characteristics of our ancestors.

The guests begged their host to accept one of their own stags; but he declined, at the same time announcing it would give him great pleasure if they would join him in a stag hunt the next day.

Then dice were brought and distributed among the guests; but one of the leaders said: "Excuse me. I would gladly play, and indeed it is our practice after each meal, but it is time for us to leave. We have never been in this region before, and we lost our way in the forest. Tell us which road to take to reach Steinberg. Once there, we know the way home."

The host told them to follow the course of the river, which was near by, and it would lead them to Steinberg. Thereupon the brother of the youth who had first spoken imperiously declared, "You had better go with us."

The host looked sharply at him and a slight frown wrinkled his brow. After a short pause he replied: "If there were any danger on the road, or if you feared you might not find the Berg, I would send one of my men to guide you, notwithstanding I am expecting an attack this very night by a marauding rabble. They have attempted twice already to surprise me, and I have news that they have designs against me to-night. That is why you found the horses' heads, and my laborers armed, which is not our usual practice."

The youth who had thus addressed the host rose in anger. Turning pale, he said: "Notwithstanding what you have just asserted, I demand that you accompany us to Steinberg; and that you may know I have the right to make the demand, I give you my name: I am Flavius, son of Prince Sigmar."

The announcement did not seem to disturb the host in the least. His face wore the same stern expression as he looked at the Prince's son. In the meantime Flavius's brother had risen from his bear-skin, his cheeks burning with shame and anger at his brother's conduct. With all the calmness he could muster, he said:

"Brother, make no trouble with our worthy host."

"Who is making trouble?" replied Flavius. "I repeat my demand that he shall accompany us."

"Young man," said the host in a tone of bitterness, "you are mistreating your own people. Look you, these scars are honorable reminders of the battles in which I fought for that excellent prince, your father. Have you any to show? Is not fighting for one's fatherland nobler work than hunting wolves and deer in the forest? When you have done some great deed I will be quick to congratulate you; but now you are only a pretty boy who has not even learned how to treat a free-born German. I obey the laws of my country, not the demands of a youth who has yet to prove by his deeds his worthiness to be a prince's son. Now hear my last word. I will not go with you; but because of my devotion to your father I will of my own accord allow one of my people to escort his son to Steinberg." Thereupon he turned to one of his men, told him what to do, and went out of the house.

Flavius's brother rushed up to him and asked: "Will you give me lodging for the night?"

"Have you forgotten what I told you might happen to-night?" replied the host.

"It is because I remember it that I wish to stay with you," said the youth.

Flavius, who was so enraged at the refusal of the host, that he could not trust himself to reply, vented his anger upon his brother and in a fury of passion ordered him to go home with him. "But," replied his brother, "I too am son of a prince, and am called Herman."

Are you not aware our father expects us to-day?" said Flavius.

"I know he expects us," replied Herman, "but more than all else he expects that we shall conduct ourselves like sons of a prince, help the oppressed, and assist the brave in battle. Because he expects this, I shall remain with my people to-night."

"As the first-born have I not the right to command?" said Flavius, clutching his hunting-sword.

Herman replied: "It is your right to take precedence of me in all good things, and my duty to follow. This time, however, you are in the wrong; therefore I shall not follow you." Thereupon he turned away to avoid a quarrel with his brother, and joined his host who was entering the house. Flavius left in a rage, accompanied by the host's servant. Herman and his people remained.

As night drew near, the necessary preparations for defence were made. The host's information was verified. About midnight the marauders appeared and tried to force their way in. After a show of resistance the door was opened. Then Herman and his men, who had been concealed, suddenly rushed upon them and a desperate struggle began. Those who did not surrender were cut down, and the fight was soon over. Seven of the robbers were bound and thrown into the barn; the others were killed.

Herman set out early the next morning, accompanied by his host. "Had you not remained," said the latter, "I should not now have been alive, for I could not have repelled the attack of the robbers with my five servants." Herman promised to send for the prisoners the next day. Death was their inevitable fate. Robbers in those days were killed with as little compunction as dogs or wolves.